New era for lobbying in Ireland

Written by Jim Walsh

Irish lobbyists face into a new era with the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 signed into law this month by President Michael D. Higgins.

At the moment the law is very ‘light-touch.’ It does not cost anything to register, nor does the legislation contain any sanctions or penalties other than a Fixed Payment Notice (€200) for late returns. But it will be formally revisited in twelve months.

The purpose of the Bill, according to the Government is as a transparency initiative. It is designed to help inform the public about “who is lobbying whom and about what.” The intention is to have a publicly accessible Online Register that will list all those who engaged in lobbying activities, who they lobbied, and if the person doing the lobbying is a consultant, and on whose behalf they were lobbying.

Lobbying is defined in this Bill as any contact with designated government officials by or on behalf of an employer concerning the:

  • initiation, development or modification of any public policy or public programme;
  • the preparation of an enactment; or
  • the award of any grant, loan, or other financial support, contract or other agreement, or of any licence or other authorisation involving public funds.

Issues not included are those related to the implementation of a policy, an enactment (i.e. a piece of legislation), an award of public funds or a technical matter.  Similarly when the Government requests factual information from an individual or a company: that is not considered as lobbying.

The new law has been broadly welcomed by the PR representative bodies in Ireland. One of their main concerns, that advisors, such as legal or financial might be excluded, has not happened. All lobbying carried out by a paid employee or on behalf of a company in return for payment is captured by this legislation.

Where the lobbying activity is carried out by any consultant on behalf of a client, the consultant will be required to register:

  • the client’s details (company name, CRO number, address, website);
  • the subject matter of the lobbying;
  • the results that were intended to be secured; and
  • the type and extent of such activity.

The designated Government officials include Ministers and all elected representatives, local and national as well as Government Special Advisors, civil servants  and local authority officials at senior level.

As the information is available on a public online forum, it can be assumed that in some cases it will be sufficient to trigger a media FOI request to the relevant Government department for more detailed information.

The web-based Register will be launched on 1st May 2015 to allow potential registrants to familiarise themselves with the system. The first return is required by 21 January 2016.

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